THE INFORMERS. By Bret Easton Ellis. Alfred A. Knopf. 226 pages. $22.
SO WHAT do you do after you've written the sickest novel of the decade?
That seems to be the defining question of Brat Pack writer Bret Easton Ellis' career these days, and it's not an easy one to answer. Three years ago, Mr. Ellis' incendiary novel "American Psycho," dominated the public imagination with its eerie depiction of a Wall Street hotshot who has a yen for blood. The scenes of female torture and mutilation -- which were widely misinterpreted as a sign of misogynistic tendencies on the part of the author himself -- turned thousands of stomachs and certainly caused more than one missed night of sleep.
Now we can hear about much of that on TV in the O.J. Simpson murder case. Violence, carnage, brutality -- yawn, what else does Mr. Ellis have to show us?
Based on his new novel, "The Informers," the answer seems to be: not much. A collage of drug deals, infidelities and occasional slayings, Mr. Ellis' new novel harkens back to his highly overrated debut, "Less Than Zero," both in style and theme. But aside from its dissolute atmosphere of hazy West Coast hedonism, "The Informers" merely drifts unimpressively from one scene to the next, resounding themes of moral decay that just don't seem all that urgent or real.
The characters hail mostly from that fast-living, high-spending alternate universe in Southern California known as Hollywood. We have rock star flavor of the month Brian Metro, coasting listlessly through a world tour while his agent tries to keep him sober enough for public appearances; we have big movie studio executives and their families, drinking and doping their way through an indistinguishable line of affairs and drug scores; and, in the novel's most outlandish touch, we have a group of twentysomething vampires who trade bloodsucking tips and gossip about the trendiest ways to decorate their coffins.
In a dizzying series of first-person narratives, "The Informers" attempts to capture the lackadaisical attitude of Los Angeles, that feeling that time and history somehow ceased two or three lines of cocaine ago. Occasionally it works, when we trace the development of a rumor like a game of Telephone, where each incarnation is more fantastic than the next. At such points, Mr. Ellis manages to make the reader feel like it's his fault that he can never remember which character is which, even though there are conflicting reports on their whereabouts and even their identities from the chemical-abusing protagonists.
But then you realize that L.A. never really felt like it does in "The Informers." What you're remembering is the way novels like Jay McInerney's "Bright Lights Big City" and Mr. Ellis' own "Less Than Zero" made you feel about modern city life.
It's then that the problems start to shine through. Given that most of the characters in Mr. Ellis' novel are victims of their own malice and excess, why should we care what happens to them? The most common reaction I had to the ensemble cast of "The Informers" -- like with mass murderer Patrick Bateman of "American Psycho" -- was to wish the majority dead and be gone with them.
Strangely enough, "The Informers" often even feels nostalgiac. But unless you have a soft spot for New Wave bands and pre-"Just Say No" attitudes on drug usage, the best course is just not to bother slugging through the whole thing. Better luck next time, Bret.
Dave Edelman writes from Cockeysville.